Twitterized, the basics of starting a PLN on twitter

New twitter users usually look overwhelmed and, frankly, lost. Twitter is a world of its own, and a tool teachers should be using to establish a Professional Learning Network.

A Professional Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people with a common profession/practice that share ideas related to their field to learn from one another. Establishing a PLN early on in the teaching experience can prove to be highly beneficial. As a teacher, I know that first year is stressful. Attempting to manage students for the first time while integrating the great ideas from your credential/masters program does not always run smoothly. Having a PLN to work through the do’s and do not’s can really save a new teacher from drowning. But PLN’s benefit every teacher, keeping their ideas fresh and up-to-date while providing feedback and new resources. Twitter is one of the easiest ways to start a PLN.

Twitter PLN
To start a PLN on twitter, and to manage all those tweets, start with lists. Make a list of people that fall into the same category. I would start with a list of teachers in your content area or grade level. Since there are some awesome educators on twitter, follow with a list of those that inspire you. Have lists for local teachers as well as teachers whose tweets you love. Beyond lists, save your searches. Since I teach math, I saved #mathchat because teachers are always sharing math resources with one another. Other examples are #edchat or #HSMath. Personalize, but make sure you choose searches that other educators are posting in frequently enough. When you post something related to a search, make sure you # it. Lastly, start @-ing people. When you respond to educators, they will respond back.

Twitter moves fast. Establishing a PLN may not happen overnight, but with persistence, it could happen within two.

Advertisements is an amazing word cloud site.  You can either take your own text or copy paste text into a box and magically a word cloud appears. You can adjust the colors and fonts.  I think this is a great tool for educators.  In an English class, students could describe the character in a book using adjectives and then make a word cloud from those adjectives.  In science, when you are learning about a theory students can make a word cloud of all the words associated with that theory.  In math, when learning a step-by-step procedure, say solving linear equations, the students could write out the steps and word cloud them.  When teaching rules and expectations to students, students could list all the words associated with the rule or expectation and word cloud them.  Word clouds are not only educational tools, but they make for a great display of student work in the classroom.  It conveys student knowledge and is appealing at the same time.  Have your students create a word cloud through wordle or on paper.

Here are some examples of word clouds from wordle:

Web 2.0 in Education

In the past couple of decades, technology has made a large impact in the education realm.  Not only are teachers using technology in their classrooms, but administrators and parents are using technological tools to assist with communication and collaboration.  With the introduction of the term Web 2.0 in 2004 (O’Reilly, 2005) and the available tools associated with Web 2.0, technology not only in the classroom but in education as a whole is being reformed.  Three major areas of reform due to Web 2.0 tools are information exchange, instructional delivery methods, and access to information.

The exchange of information is a vital component in any educational system.  In K-12 education the district is comprised of district personnel, administrators, certified teachers, and classified staff.  Considering the number of employees within a district, communication and collaboration need to be effective, efficient, and consistently used.  With the implementation of Web 2.0 tools such as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), communication and collaboration have gone beyond the basics of email and staff memos.  Using VOIP, districts can cut the costs of telephone services, decrease the number of uninformed parties, and increase time management (JISC InfoNet, 2009).  Other tools such as Google Apps allow students or staff to share and create documents, calendars, or websites.  These types of tools also enable school-to-home communication, involving parents in their child’s education.  In addition, Web 2.0 tools that offer translating services for a site assist educators who are communicating with parents that do not speak English.  The endless tools available for communication provide educators with simple solutions to past problems involving communication between staff, students, and parents.

Like a business, a school or district is concerned about the product it produces: its students.  The purpose of the school is to prepare students for their future by equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge needed in their life.  The importance here is that it is the student’s education and needs to be tailored to his or her future goals.  Web 2.0 tools assist teachers in creating an environment that is student-centered and differentiated.  Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networks allow students to contribute, create, edit, produce, invent, and socialize in order to learn.  When the student is the author, creator,  and producer of the material then he or she is displaying their knowledge in an individual way.  Beyond originality, using Web 2.0 tools encourages students to take ownership and pride in their work unlike before due to the large audience students have available to review their work.  When a student hands work into a teacher, he or she knows that the teacher may be the only person viewing that work, but when a student publishes a blog or creates a website, then his or her work is being viewed by anyone in the world.  As Steven Hargadon  stated in Web 2.0 is the Future of Education (2008), “The nature not just of how knowledge is acquired, but how it is produced, is changing.”  Changing teaching methods from teacher-centered to student-centered will encourage the use of Web 2.0 tools and originality from students.

There use to be a time when students would have a question about the world, and to find the answer they either had to look it up at the library or in an encyclopedia or ask someone who knew.  Today, Web 2.0 tools have exponentially increased the amount of information available to anyone anywhere.  This type of access creates great support for the use of Web 2.0 tools in education.  Wikis allow students and/or staff to share information and receive feedback.  Google allows a student to research and find solutions at the click of a button.  RSS feeds allow students and/or staff to follow their favorite blogs as they are edited.  Video casting on sites such as YouTube allows teachers to show videos in the classroom about current events or politics.  Online courses such as Moodle allow teachers to participate in professional development in the evenings, on weekends, or in the summer.  Virtual classrooms allow students to participate in a non-traditional classroom to better meet their individual needs.  There is an infinite amount of information on the web that can be equally accessed by all consumers.  Educators using Web 2.0 tools can encourage their students to participate in educational activities online even when they are not in the classroom, thus becoming lifelong learners.

Looking at the number of Internet users over the past two decades,  the increase from 2.6 million in 1990 to 1.6 billion in 2008 (The World Bank, 2010) indicates that if this pattern holds the number of people contributing to the web through the use of Web 2.0 tools will only increase.  As a result, people will experience increased connectivity through information exchange, access of information, and the diverse manner by which information is displayed on the web.  By encouraging the use of Web 2.0 tools in education our students will be better prepared for life beyond K-12 education and a future where technology plays a key role in their daily lives.